5.8 earthquake hits Virginia, rattles NYC, east coast

August 23, 2011 8:21:20 PM PDT
A 5.8 earthquake struck in Virginia Tuesday afternoon and was felt up and down the east coast.

The Pentagon, White House and Capitol Building were evacuated as a precaution, but Washington, D.C. fire/emergency services say there are no initial reports of serious injuries or fatalities.

A District of Columbia fire department spokesman says there are numerous minor injuries and that several buildings were also damaged, including the Washington Monument, Ecuadorian Embassy, and a handful of schools.

U.S. Parks police evacuated all monuments on the National Mall, including the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

The National Park Service released a statement saying, "The NPS has completed a secondary inspection of the Washington Monument. This inspection has revealed some cracking in the stones at the top of the Monument. The NPS will have structural engineers evaluate the cracks on Wednesday to determine the best way to repair the Monument before it is reopened. The Washington Monument grounds have been reopened except for an area about 100 feet outside of the plaza."

The quake struck at 1:51 p.m. near Mineral, Virginia, in Louisa County, and was 3.7 miles deep, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was felt in New York City and as far north as Rhode Island and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where President Barack Obama is vacationing, and as far south as South Carolina.

The quake is the strongest to hit Virginia since 1897. It was followed by a 2.8 magnitude aftershock at 2:46 p.m., located at the same location 5 miles from Mineral, another that registered a 2.2, and a strong aftershock of 4.2 at 8:21 p.m. also in Mineral.

The U.S. Weather Service says there was no threat of a tsunami.

Government buildings in New York City, including City Hall, were evacuated. The 26-story federal courthouse in lower Manhattan began swaying and hundreds of people were seen leaving the building.

In the same building, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was starting a press conference on the high-profile case involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn when the floor began shaking back and forth (CLICK HERE to see raw video from the press conference). Reporters in the room at first thought colleagues behind them were pushing their chairs. But within a few seconds, the sense that something larger was happening took hold. "Get him out of here!" the DA's security team said and ushered the DA and the others out of the room.


The FAA evacuated the control towers at Newark Liberty International Airport and Kennedy Airport as a precaution, and both airports were temporarily closed before reopening around 3 p.m. JFK AirTrain was temporarily suspended while the tracks were inspected. LaGuardia service was not disrupted.

New York City officials reported a huge spike in 311 and 911 calls but no significant damage, though one partial chimney collapse was reported in Brooklyn. The biggest complaint was the impact on cell phone service as carriers were overwhelmed with usage. Verizon Wireless and AT&T say their networks were congested as the quake sent people scrambling for the phones.

The FDNY is checking out all reports to ensure that the stability of all buildings are intact, and city officials are inspecting bridges and tunnels. The city is urging residents NOT to call 911 unless they have a real emergency.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement saying the State Office of Emergency Management is monitoring the effects of the earthquake, but that there are no reports of damage to buildings, bridges, roads, power grids, the Indian Point nuclear power plant or other infrastructure.

There were no significant local disruptions to mass transit, and LIRR train service was unaffected and is running on or close to schedule. Amtrak service was disrupted with speed restrictions between Washington and Baltimore.

MTA/NYC Transit is continuing to inspect the subway tunnels and elevated train tracks throughout the city. There are no earthquake-related service changes. There are also no signs of damage.

The quake was felt throughout the Tri-State area, with New Jersey feeling vibrations from the shore to the Statehouse.

State government workers in Trenton who at first thought strong winds had kicked up almost immediately realized they were feeling a tremor of an intensity that's rare in the Garden State.

State police acting Lieutenant Stephen Jones says there are no immediate reports of any serious injuries in New Jersey.

Governor Chris Christie was not in the Statehouse at the time.

The Deptford Township in Gloucester County has reports of a gas leak on one street, and there have been several residential evacuations at that location. Also, Gloucester County College reported a gas leak in one building that has since been evacuated.

The Suffolk County Police Department is asking residents to remain calm as local officials assess the impact of the earthquake.

Residents who wish to report non-emergency incidents resulting from the earthquake, such as downed trees or wires, are asked to call the Suffolk County Police Department's non-emergency line at 631-852-COPS. Residents should only call 911 if there is an emergency. There have been no reports of substantial damage on Long Island.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy released the following statement:

"The movement people in Connecticut felt was associated with the earthquake which originated in Virginia. Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection staff is at the Emergency Operations Center as a precaution, but at this point, there have been no reports of injury or damage."

Two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in the same county as the epicenter were automatically taken off line by safety systems around the time of the earthquake, said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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LINK TO USGS MAP: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsus/Maps/US10/32.42.-85.-75.php